February 12, 2013

Presentation: Sloane Miller on living with food allergies with confidence

At the end of January we attended a food allergy blogger summit sponsored by Mylan Specialty, makers of the EpiPen auto-injector.  The summit was an opportunity for food allergy bloggers from across the country to meet and learn together about recent food allergy research and hear from some experienced advocates in the field.
Sloane Miller aka Allergic Girl  Photo Credit: Noel Malcolm

One such advocate is Sloane Miller, aka Allergic Girl.  Sloane is a dynamic, articulate speaker and a witty, engaging person who clearly has thrived despite managing multiple food allergies for her entire life.  She is a licensed social worker and food allergy coach as well as the lauded author of Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies.  While the diagnosis of food allergies is often shocking and traumatic, Sloane believes that you can learn to live with food allergies with confidence: "Just because you have a restricted diet doesn't mean you have a restricted life."

Sloane emphasized that with any daunting task, food-allergy related or not, it feels more manageable to follow this course of action: first, identify the issue that you are dealing with; second, break it down into smaller parts; and finally, tackle each part one by one.  To develop food allergy confidence, Sloane breaks down the task into three parts:

1.  UNDERSTAND your food allergy diagnosis:  Having a clear and complete understanding of your food allergies.  This must be done collaboratively with a board certified allergist that you trust.  To get a full understanding of your allergies:
  • PREPARE for your appointment: (1) Prepare a 1-page health history that highlights known allergies, past reactions, testing previously done, and contact information.  (2) Prepare 1 page of questions that you have.  "What do the test numbers mean?" "What about 'may contain' statements?" "What do I NOT need to avoid?"
  • It is key for your food-allergic child to be included on formulating questions and seeking any clarity on issues that are important to him/her.  Know that fears, concerns, and questions will change as kids grow older and face different social situations, including dating, bullying, and college.  This is a great opportunity for kids to begin to self-advocate because, like it or not, they will be navigating the world without our daily presence before we know it.
  • CONSULT with a board-certified allergist:  Make sure you are completely comfortable and confident with your allergist.  You want a professional with whom your child and you can have an open, trusting relationship so that you feel comfortable turning to them.
  • PLAN what will happen in the event of an allergic reaction.  Create a Food Allergy Action Plan with your allergist so that you can recognize symptoms of an allergic reaction and have a clear course of action on how to respond.  Your child and you need to be able to fully understand the food allergy action plan so that you can explain it in plain English to everyone around you.  And of course, always ALWAYS carry your life-saving medication with you because accidents can and do happen at any time.
2.  COMMUNICATE your food allergy diagnosis.
  • Be clear:  Know your allergies.  Sloane suggests to try to summarize your allergies in three sentences.  Example:  "I am allergic to milk, peanuts, and tree nuts.  When I am reacting, I get hives, sneeze and cough, and my throat may swell shut.  I carry my life-saving medication in my waist pack."
  • Be factual: You know your allergies and your reactions better than anyone.  Own your knowledge.  "I get hives if I can touched with cheese or milk.  I throw up if I accidentally have a bite of dairy."  Your facts are not open for dispute. 
  • Be firm:  Be assertive and never apologize for your food allergies.  Your food allergies are real.  They are serious.  Speak in a calm, neutral tone so that people can focus on your message.  Remember you have nothing to prove.  
  • Because Sloane completely understands and accepts her food allergy diagnosis as facts, she has full confidence.  And with that, she can confidently advocate for herself.
3.  FORM POSITIVE AND SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS around your food allergy diagnosis.  This support system may consist of:
  • Your inner, safe circle of family and friends who "get it":  These are those close to you who truly understand the medical need of your food allergies.  They are flexible and open, non-judgmental and will be there to keep your safe by accommodating or advocating for you.
  • Food allergy allies:  This can be teachers, school nurses, coaches, or even servers or chefs with whom you have formed a connection.  They can provide extra support in making sure your child is safe.
  • Food allergy research and support groups:  Food allergy blogs and organizations such as Kids with Food Allergies and Food Allergy Research & Education (formerly FAAN).  Getting together in-person with a local support group is the best ways of getting support.

Learn more about Sloane's daily adventures by visiting her website.  And consider checking out her much-lauded first book, Allergic Girl:  Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies.  

Thank you again to Mylan Specialty for this opportunity to be in touch with some wonderful speakers and fellow food allergy bloggers!

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